New Resident in the Drawing Room!

The Drawing Room carpet

One of the last few pieces of the Kenmore refurnishing puzzle finally arrived last week – the Drawing Room carpet! Much like the carpet effort in the Dining room, this was a lengthy project, taking almost a year from start to finish. Unlike the Dining Room project, we didn’t have any physical clues to help us determine what the Lewis-era carpet looked like.  This time, we were definitely making an educated guess.

So, how did we end up with this magnificent carpet in Kenmore’s Drawing Room?  We started with a lot of research.  From our work in the Dining Room, we already knew that Kenmore was somewhat unusual for its time, in that it had any carpeting at all.  Floorcoverings of any variety were rare in 18th century colonial American homes, with floorcloths and hand woven mats being the most likely types found.  Actual woven carpeting, which had to be imported from England, was highly unusual, even in the wealthiest households.  You may recall, that Fielding Lewis’s probate inventory doesn’t mention a carpet in the Dining Room, and so we were very surprised to find the physical remnants of it during our restoration.  In the Drawing Room, we had the exact opposite situation.  The Drawing Room is the only room in the house to be listed as having a floorcovering in the probate inventory – a carpet that was apparently significantly old and worn by the time the inventory was done, judging on the value of it. During Kenmore’s restoration, the original floorboards still remaining in the Drawing Room were carefully examined for carpet tacks or holes left by tacks, but no such evidence was found.  So, we had a document telling us that a carpet was there, but no physical evidence to support it.  In the end, we came to the conclusion that the probate inventory was probably correct, that due to the extremely high-style decoration of the room, it was likely that Fielding Lewis intended to put a fine carpet in the room.  We resolved the lack of tack marks by determining that the carpet was probably what we would call an “area rug” instead of wall-to-wall, or “fitted” in the 18th century parlance, and may never have been tacked down at all.

Our next step was to determine a pattern for the carpet.  Once again, we did not have the physical evidence available to us during the Dining Room project.  In that situation, original carpet fibers were found, still attached to the carpet tacks remaining in the floor.  Those carpet fibers had been dyed a specific color of red, which opened the door for us to find a period pattern that included that color.  Without such evidence in the Drawing room, the world of 18th century carpet patterns was wide open.  We decided to narrow down the possibilities by looking for patterns that reflected at least some of the elements of the room’s elaborate plasterwork ceiling.  In great English houses of the 18th century, which Fielding Lewis was clearly trying to emulate at Kenmore, ceiling decoration and floorcoverings were often intentionally matched.  The Drawing Room’s ceiling is composed of natural and floral decorations, including cartouches representing the four seasons in each of the corners.  It seemed likely that the room would have had a very floral patterned carpet.  Additionally, the Drawing Room is known for its rather stunning color scheme – emerald green flocked wallpaper with a vibrant blue-turquoise paint on the woodwork.  As these colors are very bold, we decided to stay within that palette for the carpet.  After combing the original 18th century catalogs at the Grosvenor Wilton archives in  England, we finally found a pattern that fit the bill.  Unlike the Dining Room carpet pattern, it does not have a specific name, but it dates to approximately the same time period (ca. 1790).  It is comprised of large floral medallions, interspersed with floral cartouches, all in shades of green, blue and cream.

Lastly, we decided to have the carpet made in a slightly different weave than the one in the Dining Room.  The Drawing Room carpet is done in Wilton weave, rather than Brussels.  The main difference between the two is that each yarn in the Brussels weave is a loop, so that when you look down at the carpet you are seeing the uncut, looped edge of the yarns.  In the Wilton weave, each of those loops of yarn are cut, so that when you look down at it you see the fuzzy cut edge of the yarns.  Overall, the Wilton weave gives the carpet a more plush, soft feel too it.  To our eyes today, this difference in weave may not seem significant.  In the 18th century, however, the extra step required in the production of a Wilton carpet – the cutting of each loop of yarn – would have made the carpet a more expensive, and therefore more luxurious, option. Because our research shows that the Lewises intended their Drawing Room to be the more opulent entertaining space in Kenmore, it was decided that a Wilton carpet would be appropriate for the room.

In the end, Kenmore’s Drawing Room is another step closer to what it would have looked like when Fielding and Betty Lewis lived at Kenmore!

To see a video of Drawing Room carpet being installed, visit the Foundation’s other blog, Lives & Legacies!

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Welcome Back!

The Spring 2016 season has begun here at Kenmore, and as is our custom, I’m welcoming our readers back to this blog after our annual winter break with an update on new additions to the rooms.

When last we spoke, Fielding’s Office had been decked out in an assortment of objects, all illustrating aspects of his daily life, and our beautiful Eventon clothes press had returned from conservation work. In recent days, we have also added an assortment of books to the bookcase on desk in the Office, representing the extensive library that Fielding Lewis once stored in the room. Visitors will notice two books in particular. On the desk in front of the bookcase, a 1745 copy of The British Architect lays open to a page on the design of staircases. Although The British Architect is not listed amongst Fielding’s books, we do know that he was clearly emulating British architecture in Kenmore’s design, and was even considering the re-design of the house’s staircase within just a few years of moving in.

The British Architect, on display in the Office.

In addition, at long last one of Fielding’s own books has returned to its original location in the Office. Sitting open on the camp desk is a 1768 copy of Advice to People in General, with Respect to their Health, by Samuele Auguste David Tissot. The book shows up in Fielding’s 1781 probate inventory as “Tisiot – 1 vol.” Remarkably, Fielding Lewis signed his name as owner on the cover page. The book was no doubt well-used while Fielding owned it, as it provided its readers with advice and remedies for a full range of health issues, many of which Fielding suffered from in his final years.

Fielding Lewis's signature can be seen in the upper right corner.

The Drawing Room has also acquired a new display over the winter break. The corner table, once displayed folded up and against a wall, has been called into service a breakfast table (which was a common use for the furniture form). The little table seats two persons comfortably, and the diners are enjoying soft-boiled eggs, hot chocolate and a selection of fruits.  This arrangement gives us the opportunity to show off a few additional ceramic pieces from our collection, including a pair of pierced creamware egg cups, and a creamware fruit dish standing on three tiny paws, all dating to the 1780s.

Breakfast display in the Drawing Room.

I hope you will stop in soon to see our latest additions, and several more set to come in the next couple of months – stay tuned!

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The Clothes Press Returns!

The clothes press after treatment

Just before the Christmas break, our clothes press returned from conservation treatment and is now back on display in the Office. As you may remember, we have chosen to place a walnut clothes press in the Office because such a piece is listed in the 1781 probate inventory as being in the room.  Because the Office is the only room in Kenmore without a built-in closet, it appears the Lewis family felt it needed some extra storage space.

The clothes press in our collection is not a Lewis family piece, but it was made in Virginia, ca. 1760.  It has long been attributed to Mardun Vaughan Eventon, a cabinetmaker and joiner who has an interesting story of his own.  Our research into the clothes press and its maker in preparation for the conservation work revealed that this piece is a good choice for use in Fielding Lewis’s Office. Visitors might notice that in addition to looking very clean and shiny, the piece is also a bit taller than when we last saw it!

The cubby hole compartment

The press has two doors on the front, which open to reveal a compartment for hanging clothes, with wooden pegs mounted around the interior.  On the side of the hanging compartment is another door that opens on a set of small cubby holes, probably for the storage of shoes, accessories and perhaps important papers (the door is equipped with a lock).  Over the years, the original hinges for both sets of doors had worn nearly through and were barely holding the doors on to the piece. Additionally, both door locks had frozen in the locked position, so no one had seen the interior of the press in quite some time.  We were particularly intrigued by references in the files to an inscription etched into the interior of one of the front doors.  According to the file, it read “12 hawks, sent Mr. Smith, 1771″.  Would a closer, in-person look at the inscription shed more light on its enigmatic meaning?

The newly restored foot - you can barely see the line where new wood joins the old.

When the press left us for conservation treatment, we anticipated that both the locks and hinges would be repaired, and that the entire piece would get a good cleaning to remove 200 years’ worth of fireplace soot, furniture polish and grime.  What we did not anticipate, however, was that the conservator would discover that the press’s feet had been sawn off at some point in its history to make the whole thing about 3 inches shorter.  By comparing our clothes press to another known Mardun Eventon piece (a desk on bookcase at Colonial Williamsburg), the conservator was able to extrapolate what the original feet looked like, and how they were attached to the press.  He added that work to the treatment, and now the press stands at its original height once again.

The very faint inscription inside the front door.

With the hardware repaired and in working condition, we were finally able to have a look at that odd inscription inside the front door.  As it turned out, instead of the numeral “12″, the inscription included twelve hash marks, followed by the word “hanks” instead of “hawks”.  The term hank was often used to describe the amount of a textile or thread that was being sold, such as “1 hank of silk”, so perhaps the inscription is referring to twelve parcels of a textile. The “sent Mr. Smith” portion is still open to speculation, however, as it is very nearly illegible.  While “1771″ is clearly etched into the wood, its meaning is still unclear, as well.  Eventon died in 1778, and was nearly out of the furniture-making business in 1771, so it most likely does not refer to the date of manufacture for the press.  Altogether, the inscription remains a mystery, but one we will keep working on!

I’ve already mentioned that Eventon died in 1778.  Interestingly enough, at that time he had left the furniture trade altogether and had enlisted in the 5th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line.  Although he had once been a very prosperous cabinetmaker in several counties throughout Eastern Virginia, the Revolution had dried up most of his business, and he was forced to mortgage his property and to sell many of his architecture books and tools.  In 1778, he was injured in combat and died shortly thereafter.  It therefore seems rather appropriate that his clothes press now sits in the office of another patriot to the cause.  Fielding Lewis, too, knew what it was to lose one’s livelihood and wealth to the war.

Kenmore will be closed to the public in January and February, so we will look forward to seeing you again in the spring. Please mark you calendars to come and see the clothes press, as well as the completed Office, in March!

Biographical information on Mardun Eventon came from Southern Furniture, 1680-1830, by Ronald L. Hurst and Jonathan Prown.

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A Big Move

A few days ago, we said a (temporary) goodbye to the walnut clothes press that has been on display in the Office.  It is headed off for conservation treatment, which will restore all of its hinges and locks to full working order, and return the piece to its original 18th century appearance.  The process of getting such a large piece out the door and into a van is challenging, to say the least.  Luckily, we know some pretty talented conservators who know what they are doing.  Here are a few shots of our morning activities:

The upper cabinet portion is removed from the lower chest of drawers base

The doors are shrink-wrapped to keep them in place during transport

The cabinet is slid on blankets over the threshold and down the passageway

Whew! Made it to the door!

No choice but to carry it at this point

Here, just hold that for a second!

And it fits (we never had any doubts)! So long, clothes press - see you soon!

Stay tuned for the clothes press’s return and a full report on what we learned about it!

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Floorcloth in the Office?

We are currently investigating the possibility that Fielding Lewis’s Office had a floorcloth covering its floorboards, much like the Passage. As you may recall, floorcloths were popular floorcoverings in colonial American households, as they were far more affordable than carpet and were durable enough to protect floors in high-traffic areas of the house, like the Passage. These decoratively painted sheets of sail canvas could be mopped when dirty, re-varnished when they began to wear, and simply repainted with a new design to keep up with changing fashion.

Evidence shows, however, that floorcloths were sometimes used in other areas of the house, as well. They are sometimes listed in probate inventories as being in chambers, and private rooms on the second floor of the house. Even in formal rooms, like the dining room, a floorcloth might be put under a dining table to catch food and spilled drinks. In areas where a floorcloth would be seen by more than just family members, it was probably decorated in a more ornate pattern. Fielding’s office was both a utilitarian, working office and a space in which Fielding might meet with business associates and other gentry who needed to be suitably impressed. Would it have had a floorcloth?

Kenmore’s most recent restoration provided us with two clues as to the existence of a floorcloth in the Office. First, a small fragment of painted textile was found wedged under one of the baseboards in the room. Microscopic analysis of the fragment found that is was composed of hemp with some wool and cotton fibers mixed in. Although this is not the usual make-up of canvas from the 18th century, historic textile consultants did suggest that it could represent the natural fibers of padding placed under floorcloths on occasion. The paint attached to the fibers represented at least 5 layers of paint and varnish, indicating that the textile had been painted, varnished, worn through, repainted and revarnished multiple times, which is exactly what one would expect to find in a fragment of floorcloth. Unfortunately the fragment was so small and degraded that no determination to original color could be made, but the existence of the fragment strongly indicates that the Office had a floorcloth at one time.

The second clue found during the restoration is a group of larger floorcloth fragments that were found under the attic floorboards. These fragments are large enough that we can see a pattern and color scheme. While these fragments are obviously from a floorcloth, dating them is a little harder. Floorcloths were used in American households from the mid-18th century through the mid-19th century. Was this floorcloth old enough to have been used during the Lewis era at Kenmore? To narrow down the date range, samples from the green painted areas on the fragments were once again put under a microscope.  Prior to 1816, green pigmented paint did not have chrome yellow in its composition. Analysis confirmed an absence of chrome yellow, meaning that the floorcloth dates to before 1816. While not a conclusive date, it certainly moves the possible date range closer to the Lewis occupation of Kenmore.

These clues add up to a distinct possibility that Fielding’s Office did indeed have a floorcloth, and we may even have pieces of it. Stay tuned to see where this investigation takes us next!

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Personal Effects

Another batch of objects has been added to Fielding’s Office, this time with a decidedly personal theme.  While the Chamber is accessorized with a mix of small objects that either belonged to Betty Lewis or illustrate an aspect of her life that we know of, we don’t have the same luxury in the Office.  Sadly, there are no objects surviving in our collection that once belonged to Fielding himself.  In order to introduce some personality into his private work space, we have selected several items that no doubt would have been at home in the room.

A cocked hat sitting on top of the triangular mahogany box in which it was stored.

Visitors will notice the recent addition of a tricorne hat and hat box to the room, now sitting on the open desk beside Fielding’s easy chair.  Proper gentlemen in the 18th century never went out in public without a hat, and the tricorne was a popular style.  However, Fielding Lewis and his contemporaries would not have called it a tricorne, or tricornered, hat as we do today.  It was more commonly referred to as a cocked hat, in reference to the edges of the broad-brimmed hat being folded up, or cocked, to create the look we are familiar with.  Cocking the sides of a hat was done for style, but it probably started as a practicality.  Powdered wigs were becoming more elaborate as the 18th century progressed, and while a hat remained a requirement in public, it became more acceptable to simply carry it under one’s arm rather than mash a beautifully coiffed wig with it.  These gentlemen’s hats could be made of a short-hair fur, such as beaver, or boiled wool or even silk. They were usually trimmed in silk ribbon and decorated with an embellished cockade, which might hold feathers or other adornment.  In Fielding’s Office, however, we are displaying the sort of cocked hat that would have been worn in the working world.  Our hat dates to approximately 1770, and is made of simple boiled wool, with a plain cotton ribbon trim.  There is no cockade, and it clearly shows creases from many years of being worn firmly on the head, probably without a voluminous powdered wig.  It is intended to emphasize the fact that the Office is a working room, where Fielding conducted business not entertainment.  If he had just walked in the door from a daily tour of his fields or storehouses, this is the style of hat that he would have flung on the desk as he sat down in his chair.

View of the Office

Speaking of flinging things, visitors will also notice a pair of wool stockings casually flung over the back of the easy chair, as well.  These are original stockings dating to the late 18th century, and are in remarkably good shape for how they were intended to be used.  Much like hats, stockings were a requirement in daily dress.  Fancier stockings were made of silk or cotton, while wool stockings were for work and more commonly worn by laborers.  However, many of Betty Lewis’s store accounts that survive in Kenmore’s archives show that she quite regularly purchased one or two pairs of wool stockings, along with other household goods.  While it might be assumed that she was purchasing these stockings for slaves or servants, the small number bought at one time indicates that they were intended for a smaller group of people, perhaps her husband and five children.  It seems likely, therefore, that Fielding was wearing wool stockings in his daily work.  We show them in his Office, as if they too were cast aside after a walk through the fields.

Spectacles with their carrying case in the background

Lastly, we have added a pair of spectacles to the room.  While Fielding does not wear spectacles in the only known depiction of him (the portrait by John Wollaston, ca. 1765), his eye problems were well-documented.  Even in the Wollaston portrait he is shown with a crossed eye, a condition which is mentioned in several contemporary descriptions of him.  It seems likely that spectacles would have been a necessity for Fielding, and always nearby.  The pair on display date to approximately 1775, and were made in England.

I hope you will stop by soon to see Fielding’s Office as it truly begins to take shape!

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A Cup for the Road!

The time has come in our work on the Office to start bringing in the little details, the accessories of daily life.  There will be quite a few such things in this room, and they all will require some explanation.  Because the 1781 probate inventory does not provide us with a list of contents for this room when it was being used as Fielding’s office, we have to imagine what sort of objects he would have on hand.  Instead of showing the things we KNOW were in the room, we are showing things that illustrate a little bit about Fielding’s life and personality.

Image, Thomas Place Auction Galleries

Today we will be focusing on a unique drinking vessel known as a “stirrup cup.”  At first glance, this cup doesn’t look much like a cup at all. Most notably, it doesn’t have a flat bottom, and therefore rests on its side.  Stirrup cups were also famous for being made in the shape of various animal heads, in this case that of a fox.  As early as the 17th century in England, fox hunting was a major pastime.  An entire week of entertainment could be scheduled around elaborate hunts, with hundreds of participants (not to mention their horses and dogs), and a host who provided food, drink and hospitality from his country manor.  Fox hunting was often reserved for the aristocracy in England, but in the American colonies participation in hunts (albeit on a smaller scale) became a mark of gentility.  The role of hospitality was emphasized, and seeing to the comfort of one’s guests nearly overshadowed the importance of actually hunting anything.  The stirrup cup was a part of the hunting tradition.  As participants met up prior to setting out after their fox, servants would often wonder around the horses carrying these cups, filled with wine or punch, handing them up to riders once they were mounted and “in their stirrups” for one last toast or fortifying drink.  Although the original cups were simple in appearance, over the years, makers began producing them in fanciful designs related to hunting, like fox, dog or horse heads.  It was all part of the festive mood associated with fox hunting.  The stirrup cup itself eventually became a symbol for hospitality, or good wishes for safe travels, and was often offered to guests when they departed a household.

Gift of Mrs. George Steiner, 1991.

Our example of a stirrup cup was made ca. 1775 in Staffordshire, England.  In addition to being fashioned to look like the head of a fox, it is also decorated with the phrase “Talli: O” on its collar, in reference to the traditional cry shouted at the beginning of a hunt (sometimes written “Tally-Oh” or Tally-Ho”, as well).  In an interesting connection, cuff links with the same inscription were found during the archaeological dig at Ferry Farm, and were dated to the Washington family era on the property.  It is well-known that George Washington was an avid hunter, and the symbols of that lifestyle make it evident.

Because of both its symbolism as an object used by the social elites in colonial America, and its ties to objects unearthed at Ferry Farm, we have chosen to display the stirrup cup in Fielding’s Office.  Although we do not know whether Fielding ever participated in fox hunting himself, we do know that he strove to maintain the appearance of refinement and gentility so important to his business and social standing.  Kenmore itself was built for that purpose.  The Office was a room in which he would have received business associates and close friends, and he no doubt offered them a cup of hospitality before they took their leave.

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The Linen Closet

I have spent some time in the last week investigating one of my favorite spaces in Kenmore – the closets.  Specifically, I’ve been looking into the contents of the “black walnut press” listed among the furnishings of the Small Room in the 1781 probate inventory (a “press” was what we might call an armoire or a wardrobe today).
It’s a curious item, as it is the only storage case piece listed in the entire inventory.  The lack of case pieces for storage at Kenmore is easily explained by the fact that there were two built-in closets in almost every room of the house – the Lewis family just didn’t need presses when they had all that closet space. Despite their wealth of closets, however, the decision was made to store all of the household linen – bed sheets, towels, tablecloths, etc. – separately, in a press in Fielding’s office.  We may never know the reasoning behind this decision, but I can’t help but imagine that there was a good story behind it.

So what exactly did Betty Lewis store in her husband’s office? According to the inventory, the press contained a total of 20 pairs of bed sheets, 21 pillowcases, 9 tablecloths, 14 napkins, and 24 towels.  Luckily, the inventory also provides a little descriptive information for several of these items, in addition to a value for
each.

Bed sheets in colonial America were produced at home.  The mistress of a household could purchase sheeting fabric at a store, but she sewed the fabric into sheets herself.  The basic format was two widths of the sheeting fabric sewn together so that there was one seam down the middle of the sheet, and the selvedge edges of
the width of fabric were two of the outside edges.  The remaining two edges of the sheet were hand-hemmed.  The lady of the house often marked the sheets she made with her initials in one corner.  The walnut press in Fielding’s office actually contained two types of bed sheets.  16 pairs were simply listed as “sheets”, without
any other descriptors.  The remaining 4 pairs were described as “Cotton & Thread” sheets.  “Thread” was often used as a term for linen, so “cotton & thread” probably meant that these 4 pairs of sheets were of mixed fibers – both cotton and linen. A look at accounts with Fielding Lewis’s store that have survived in the Kenmore manuscript collection show that a variety of sheeting fabric was available to his customers, including linen, cotton, mixed and “Russia” (which was an all-linen fabric imported from Russia).  Pillowcases, which were square not rectangular as our standard cases are today, were usually made from the same type of fabric.  In a household with 16 beds or bedsteads, we can be sure that these 20 pairs of sheets and pillowcases saw a fair amount of
use.

A set of late 18th century Irish linen damask napkins sold at Christie's London in 2011

Although the inventory does not provide any additional description of the 9 tablecloths, it does tell us something about the 14 napkins that went with them.  The napkins are described as “damask”, which was a type of fabric made from silk, linen, worsted wool or a combination.  The fabric was woven so that the pattern, usually  of flowers, appeared in relief to the background.  Damask was a good choice for table linens because it was
reversible.  Although the type of damask isn’t detailed in the inventory, the relatively low value of the napkins (2 shillings each) indicates that it probably wasn’t silk.  The Lewis store accounts show that Irish linen damask was occasionally available for purchase there.

The 24 towels were also of two types – “diaper” and “coarse”.  The coarse towels are no great mystery.  They were probably of cheap fabric and used for cleaning or other utilitarian purposes.  The diaper towels were a bit nicer, however.  Diaper was a linen fabric woven in a diamond pattern.  It was extremely soft, and highly
absorbent, so these towels were probably used for bathing, although diaper was often used to cover tables, as well.  Smaller tables, like the corner table in Kenmore’s Drawing Room, which could be used for breakfast or informal meals might be set with a diaper tablecloth.

Now that we have identified the linens originally stored in Fielding’s office, they will be placed in a walnut press in that room as part of the furnishing arrangement…for whatever reason they were originally placed there!

For more information and an excellent analysis of household textiles in colonial Virginia, see:

http://www.gunstonhall.org/mansion/room_use_study/textiles.html

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Faulconer’s Voyage

Today I bring you the second in a series of posts about the books we are slowly identifying as part of Fielding Lewis’s personal library.  You can read more about the library project here.  As you may recall, I mentioned that while the 1781 probate inventory provides us with a list of the titles in Fielding’s library, that list still requires quite a bit of research.  The inventory-taker often used only partial titles, or in some cases substituted the author’s name for the title of a book.  Today’s subject is a perfect example of exactly how confusing this list can be at times.

The seventh item in Fielding’s library inventory reads, “Faulconers Voyage 1 Volo”.  The valuation column is torn at this point on the page, so we do not know its value.  Our research has led us to speculate that “Faulconers Voyage” refers to a somewhat mysterious book entitled The Voyages, Dangerous Adventures and Imminent Escapes of Captain Richard Falconer, published in London by William Rufus Chetwood.  Why mysterious? Well, there are several odd circumstances surrounding this book. First, although it appears that the book is written by this Captain Falconer as true-life account of his career at sea, it may actually be a work of fiction.  Captain Falconer has never been identified as a real person.  The leading candidate for the real author is the man listed as the book’s publisher – William Rufus Chetwood.

Chetwood is the next rather mysterious element of the book’s story.  Not much is known about him at all.  He was either English or Irish, and although his birth date is unknown, he was actively publishing manuscripts by 1713. In that year, he is listed as the publisher for an interesting work called A Poem on the Memorable Fall of Chloe’s P-s Pot, which has been attributed to Jonathan Swift.  Thereafter, his name shows up again and again as a publisher of poems and plays.  He also penned quite a few plays for the stage during his career, some of which had modest success.  Towards the end of his life, he suddenly started writing adventure novels, most of which had to do with the sea and sea-going vessels, including the 1736 novel The Voyages, Travels and Adventures of Captain W.O.G. Vaughn, which was very similar to Captain Falconer, except that Chetwood claimed authorship of it.  This sudden interest in sea adventures has led to speculation that Chetwood may have spent his early years on a sailing vessel, perhaps explaining why there are so few records of his early days. In any case, none of Chetwood’s work in the theater, as a publisher or as a novelist amounted to much in the way of income.  While his birth date is unknown, his date of death is exact: March 3rd, 1766.  That date is found in the records of The Marshalsea, a debtors’ prison in Dublin.

The date of publication for Captain Falconer is the last bit of mystery surrounding the book. Chetwood’s seagoing works do not show up prior to the mid-1730′s, but a copy of Captain Falconer sold at Bonham’s in 2012 shows it’s publication date as 1720 inside the front cover.  Did Chetwood make an early attempt to sell one of his seafaring novels as a real-life account? When that failed to garner much interest, perhaps he switched to advertising his work as fiction?

Captain Falconer is just one of many novels included in Fielding Lewis’s personal library, making his collection a little different than the standard assortment owned by Virginia gentlemen of the day.  Most of the social elites who could afford to amass a library stocked it with philosophical works, treatises on law and science, perhaps some titles dealing with medicine.  And while those types of books also make an appearance in Fielding’s office, his collection has more than its share of adventure and intrigue.  The inclusion of Captain Falconer may be a nod to Fielding’s lifelong association with merchant vessels, both his father’s fleet and his own.  In any case, it certainly shows a glimpse of a man who read for fun and pleasure, as well as education.

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New Acquisition!

Thanks to the generosity of a kind donor, the Foundation has acquired a new piece for the refurnishing of Fielding Lewis’s office. It is a campaign or “camp” desk, probably made in Maryland and dating to approximately 1775. The desk was originally owned at Myrtle Grove, the early 18th century seat of the Goldsborough family in Talbot County, Maryland.

The campaign desk on display in the Office

A campaign desk was specifically intended for mobility – it could be moved anywhere someone wanted or needed a desk, whether inside or out. It is basically a box that unfolds to reveal a writing surface and various cubby holes and drawers for organizing documents and desk accessories. The box is fitted with handles on the outside, so that it can easily be carried form one place to another. The whole thing rests on a stand, or set of legs that also could be easily folded up and moved as necessary. Such pieces were commonly found in military camps, among the living quarters of officers like George Washington, who had a variety of mobile furnishings for his campaign tent during the Revolution. Among the gentry, like the Lewis and Goldsborough families, a campaign desk could be used in a plantation office and also be moved out to the fields when on-site supervision was required.

Since we have no listing of furnishings for Fielding’s office, we are basing its refurnishing on research and interpretation. This campaign desk provides us with the opportunity to show visitors an unusual furniture form, but it also helps to illustrate the room’s use as a working office, where Fielding spent many hours over his ledgers, ships’ manifests and farm reports. This was not a room intended to be seen by the social elite, and so the furnishings were simple and useful.

Make a visit to Kenmore soon, and see the campaign desk, newly installed in the Office!

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